Monday, January 05, 2015

TV Show at City Winery, New York City, Saturday, January 3, 2015

by Dick Mac

Tony Visconti is the most talented and famous person you think you've never heard of.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1944, as a teenager became a professional musician in New York City.  He moved to England during the British Invasion and landed smack dab in the middle of some of the most exciting and innovative musical happenings in history.

Probably best known for his work with David Bowie, especially as producer of the "Berlin Trilogy," I was first exposed to him as the producer of the T.Rex album "Electric Warrior" (a record that changed my life).

He has produced records for Tyrannosaurus Rex (which became T.Rex), Apple Records artists The Iveys, Mary Hopkin, and Badfinger, David Bowie, The Strawbs, Gentle Giant, Tom Paxton, Sparks, Argent, Iggy Pop, Thin Lizzy, Rick Wakeman, Boomtown Rats, The Stranglers, Elaine Page, Difford & Tilbrook, Altered Images, Adam Ant, Modern Romance, The Moody Blues, Prefab Sprout, Kristeen Young, Morrissey, Angelique Kidjo, Alejandro Escovedo, and many, many more.

He also provided orchestral arrangements for Paul McCartney's only listenable LP, "Band On The Run."

He is a bass player and singer in his own right.  Recently, he loaned his humble prowess to the creation and production of a live performance aptly titled "The TV Show" and performed at City Winery, in New York City.

His band was a very New York line-up:

Richard Barone (The Bongos), co-producer, guitars, vocals.
Gerry Leonard (Spooky Ghost, Suzanne Vega, David Bowie), guitars.
Dennis Diken (The Smithereens), drums.
Joe McGinty (Loser's Lounge), keyboards.
Peter Hess (Bang On A Can, Slavic Soul Party), sax, flute.

The singers equally amazing:

Suzanne Vega
Kiah Victoria
Larkin Grimm

All the songs to be performed were connected  to Tony Visconti as either a producer, singer, writer or musician.  I guess that narrowed it down to about 3,000 songs, nineteen of which were promised this night.

City Winery is one of the best venues in New York City.  They have a ticketing system that allows you to pick your seat, and as the city's only fully-functioning winery, it offers an impressive wine list and delicious menu.

After a meal of pork belly, guacamole with feta, lobster pasta and hangar steak followed by fresh donuts with ice cream and a cup of coffee, we were ready for a show.

The band took the stage and after a few tunings and remarks from Visconti, the show began:

A New Career In A New Town (Bowie).  This instrumental is the opening cut from "Low," perhaps David Bowie's most influential and creative record, and certainly a masterpiece.  The original was produced by Visconti in France and was the beginning of the "Berlin Trilogy."  They didn't miss a beat that you could discern.  All the musicians played with the sound of admiration and awe in each beat, strum, stroke, key, and chord.

The show continued with Rock 'n Roll With Me (Bowie/Peace), from the Diamond Dogs LP.  It's a beautiful song and was sung beautifully.

Next, Richard Barone tackled You Have Killed Me (Morrissey), and I liked this version more than the original.  I have heard, and heard of, Barone for many years; but I'd never seen him perform.  Elvis Presley is a common milestone on which we criticize, compare, and count musicians and singers.  In this case, if Elvis Presley had come after David Bowie, he would have danced onstage like Richard Barone.  Barone can move his hips while singing, and he moves them well.  I have one question for my friends, associates and colleagues:  Why didn't you guys tell me that Barone was so friggin' hot?

There is only one Paul McCartney album I can listen to:  Band On The Run.  It is the only McCartney record that rocks, has a rock n roll sound, has depth, is dynamic the way a rock record should be.  I could never figure out why it was so different from all his other records.  Well, when McCartney released the 30th Anniversary edition of the album, he gave credit where credit was due and listed Tony Visconti as the orchestral arranger.  THAT explains why Band On The Run is so good:  Tony Visconti was the arranger!  Since this was a pretty famous project and had some pretty big hits, it makes sense that one of those songs would be selected.  This night, the lovely Kiah Victoria sang Jet (McCartney/McCartney).  Victoria is a striking presence on stage with a big voice, a big smile, big hair, a big presence, major style, and majorly big talent.  A student at NYU's Clive Davis School of Music, she is a student (protege?) of Barone's.  She belted out Jet like it was no body's business and made it acutely obvious that more women should sing that song.  The lyrics are insipidly McCartney-esque, but there is a range to it that Kiah Victoria brought to life.

The third album of Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" was "Lodger," perhaps the most under-rated rock album in history.  Even people who tell you they love David Bowie seem to know nothing about this influential record. Every rock star and musician knows it, but your average music consumer seems to have missed it.  Kiah Victoria, along with the band, sang Boys Keep Swinging (Bowie/Eno) in a strong, solid straight-forward manner.  As Visconti pointed out when introducing the song, this is very much a "boy" song; and it was great to hear it sung by a girl.

I had never heard of Nakia.  He is a young singer who flew in from Austin, Texas, to perform as part of The TV Show.  he took center stage to sing the lead on Young Americans (Bowie).  He did a magnificent job, and Peter Hess did not disappoint playing that amazing sax part originated by David Sanborn some forty years ago.  See it here:  Young Americans, Nakia, The TV Show

Yet Another Midnight (Visconti/Barone).  Barone and Visconti are made for each other.  If this isn't a professional love fest, then I've never seen one.  They complement each other wonderfully, both with a humble yet large stage presence.

How has Larkin Grimm stayed under my radar?  What a  voice! Visconti told the story of seeing her perform for the first time, and his surprise that she knew about Tyrannosaurus Rex.  She sang Dove (Bolan) and the always popular She Was Born To Be My Unicorn (Bolan).  She has an unassuming presence when singing backup, but she glows when taking the lead.

Dennis Diken, of The Smithereens, sang Beautiful Daughter (Wood), which is not an easy song to sing.  He has an excellent stage presence and a strong voice.  I'll bet that after singing it a few more times, it will flow with ease.

In 1974, I watched David Bowie sing Sweet Thing (Bowie) live in concert at the Music Hall in Boston. Since that day I have waited and waited and waited for him to do it again. And I have seen him in concert many, many times. And he has not ever sung it again.  It's a really hard song to sing; it was written by Bowie for Bowie. It's not your standard pop hit that gets covered over and over by anyone and everyone. Considering the vocal acrobatics and the lyrical content of the song, it takes a brave and adventurous soul to undertake a live performance.  Richard Barone put on his leather gloves, took off his shirt, and showed us his set smells like a street, in a bold, passionate rendition of this homoerotic ride though the demi-monde.  He succeeded at bringing the song and its spirit to life -- no easy feat.

Never in a million years did I think I would watch Suzanne Vega sing The Man Who Sold The World (Bowie)!  Since being covered by new wavers and grungers over the past 30 years, TMWSTW has earned a spot in the pantheon of rock standards.  Vega did not disappoint.  Strong vocals, a self-assuredness in her stature that I must admit I do not see enough in her live performances, and an unbridled enthusiasm made this a highlight of the evening.  Sure, it's hard to go wrong with a singer of Vega's stature; but, she went above and beyond.

I think a very small group of my friends in Boston were the only ones to pay any attention to the movie and soundtrack "Breaking Glass."  It was so obscure, even to me, that I had no idea that Visconti was involved.  He told great stories about the writing, producing, arranging and recording of of the soundtrack at the same time the movie was being filmed. Tonight's offering from that soundtrack was Will You (O'Connor).

The evening began to peak when everyone sang along with Visconti to Fashion (Bowie) and "Heroes" (Bowie/Eno).  You knew the night was coming to an end, but the exuberance was enough to get people singing along.  You knew it would be the final songs, but nobody seemed to mind, everything seemed so spontaneous.

The encore was two T.Rex songs (of course):  Oh Baby (Bolan) and the early glam anthem Get It On  (Bang A Gong) (Bolan). The encore was raucous and spiraling and it felt like it wasn't going to end.

Special mention has to be made about the stellar performance of Gerry Leonard on every song.  As David Bowie's bandleader, Leonard has become expert in the nuances of glam rock.  He was on fire.  Invisible most of the show, sitting behind the backup singers, he tore it up.

It is my sincerest wish that Visconti and Barone do The TV Show again.  It's even OK with me if it's the exact same line-up of talent and songs.

I failed to discuss two other songs that were performed:  Ballrooms Of Mars (Bolan) and Your Wildest Dreams (Hayward).  Suffice it to say that both were done with the same aplomb and enthusiasm afforded all the other songs.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In Spite of Being Predictable . . .

by Dick Mac

Have a Very Funky and a Very Happy Thanksgiving!


Sly & The Family Stone

Midnight Special
Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (1974)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This is the conundrum about the "Ferguson Verdict" for me

by Dick Mac

(1) You can't very well prosecute a cop for doing his job

(2) Cops work for employers that allow and promote the harassment, imprisonment, and murder of young black men.

An exaggeration?  I don't think so.

One only needs to look at or read the "news" to know that deadly force is used disproportionately against black men than white men, and that minor infractions are dealt with more harshly for black men than white men.

The problem is systemic, the problem is societal.  We place less value on the lives of young black men than other young men.  Black men are arrested for infractions for which a white men would never be arrested, probably never even stopped and questioned.

The police cannot change as long as our social policies and mores allow and/or promote this.  We all allow this.  Every single one of us is responsible for this.  And if you think you "support the cops," you are doing them and yourself no favor by pretending that this is not a real problem.


In the big picture, we all "support the cops."  Even the people who are systematically harassed by the police will tell you they know that police have to exist and generally do a good job.  There are very few sociopaths who will tell you they are opposed to policing, to police forces.

The difference is, some people who "stand by the cops"  know that the criminal justice and law enforcement system is rigged against young black men and some of us who "stand by the cops" think that is a fallacy.

It is not a fallacy.

We live in an economy where one of the the biggest growth industries is incarceration:  imprisonment for profit.  The increase in prison population to fuel this growth industry is disproportionately young men of color.  This is real.  The numbers prove it.  Black men are imprisoned for minor infractions at a far greater rate than white men.

It's very very sad that Michael Brown is dead.  It's even sadder that his death will be in vain because another unarmed black young man will be shot for no infraction or a minor infraction any moment now. It may have just happened as you read this and we both know it.

You can't prosecute a cop for doing his job, but you can demand his employer change its policies and tactics.  Who is that employer?  That employer is you!

Unless you are willing to change and do something about it, nothing will change.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Supporters Supporting Supporters

At RFK Stadium.  Photo by Bob Larson.
by Dick Mac

If you are like me, you really don't like that person at a public event who over-reacts to inconveniences and mishaps, especially at sporting events.

You know the ones: he'll roll his eyes, or click his tongue, or say something sarcastic that would have been witty if it wasn't so bitchy, or snotty.

Snotty: that's the word.  Nobody likes a snob, that person with the snotty attitude about the goings-on about them.

Shit happens at events, especially public events with crowds, and really especially at sporting events, shit happens.  We roll with the punches.

I've had beer spilled on me and thrown on me from above, I've been knocked over, I've had people with inexpensive tickets sitting in my expensive seats, I've dropped my food or drink in the concourse and returned to my seat empty-handed, I've stood in line at the concession stand for the entire half-time been 10 minutes from service and walked away empty-handed.

This is the shit that happens.

I have a smart mouth and a sharp tongue that I use too much and sometimes inappropriately.  I speak up when it comes to bad business and bad service, and I tend to be more forgiving of the human error of my neighbors and companions.

And I get really irritated at those snotty bastards who whine about kids in their expensive seats, or liquid flying through the air during a goal celebration, or someone knocking your beer out of your hands.

Well, let me tell you a story about one snotty bastard and four really nice people at the DC United vs. Red Bull New York playoff match last weekend.

It had been a really long ride from Harrison, NJ, to Northeast Washington, DC.  Twelve buses left early early early in the morning and arrived with barely enough time to set-up, get the grills going, cook a few hundred pounds of burgers and dogs, feed 1000+ people, distribute drinks, break down and get into RFK Stadium for kick off.

I wasn't too famished, because I'd brought a couple dozen amazingly delicious donuts from Best Coffee Shop, in Borough Park, Brooklyn.  On my bus we had yummy donuts.

Many people arrived in Washington already buzzed and a bit hungry for it.  Some people got plenty to eat because they were paying attention to the goings-on, and some people were rushing at the end to get a little something in their belly before it was all gone.  I was in the middle of that.  I had a burger and a dog, and someone brought me a second burger.  I was hungry, but not famished.

The march into an away stadium is always exhilarating because the home fans line-up to jeer us, while the police try to protect us, and the march is often substantial because visiting supporters don't always get the best parking lot for their buses.  The chanting and singing, the yelling and bickering, are fun, funny, tense, and amusing.  You'll even see a cop or two crack up laughing at the banter between rival fans, and the words of some of the songs and chants.

We were a big crowd.  Well over a thousand Red Bull supporters made the march into the stadium.

I managed a seat with some friends and strangers and we had a wonderful time during the first half.  When the whistle blew for the break I was hungry and not sure if I should get food.  It didn't take long to decide YES!  At soccer matches, the away fans, the visiting supporters, are relegated to a specific section or area and are generally only allowed to use the concessions and toilets in that designated area.

Fortunately, there was a quesadilla stand in our area and I decided to get two big, cheesy, over-sized quesadillas, because I assumed my friends and neighbors would help eat them once they saw them.  They look amazingly yummy!

I waited and waited and waited and the second half started and I waited some more, and now I was really hungry and getting a wee but irritated.

Finally, ten minutes into the second half (which meant at least 25 minutes in line) I was making my way down the stairs of my section to my row to my seat.  Just as I got to my row,  P√©guy Luyindula scored a goal that pretty much secured our victory over the hated DC United and advancement to the Eastern Conference Finals.

I was excusing myself and sliding past the first couple of guys in my row when the place erupted.

Everyone leaped into the air!  Even I was screaming and yelling and balancing two hands of food and an open bottle of water tucked under my arm.  Then it happened . . .

In celebration, a body slammed into my back, the person threw his arms around me and the guy in front of me and we were all three a mass of celebrating human flesh.  The quesadilla in my right hand vanished somewhere.  I was irritated but not angry.  I pulled away, switched the food in my left hand to my right hand and held the open bottle of water in my left, turned around and BLAM, the couple in the row in front of me had spun around to hug whoever was behind them.  That was me.

My second quesadilla vanished and water began spilling everywhere.

I was so happy to have scored a goal, and I was so hungry, that now I was light-headed.  I pushed the guy off me as hard as I could, splashed some of my water on him for good measure. and screamed:  you just destroyed my fucking food that I waited twenty minutes to get.

I was filled with rage.

I was now that little bitch who over reacts.  I was that snotty prick you want to slap because he's being a total ass.  That was me.

The genie was out of the lamp.  Now I was hungry, wet, embarrassed and angry.

Within 10 seconds, the young guy to my right had rescued one quesadilla from the ground and meekly handed it to me.  I was still seeing red and threw it to the ground, knowing I was being a jerk but unable to stop myself.

I screamed something about my food and how long I waited and blah blah blah.  I didn't call anyone any names and I didn't directly insult anyone, but I was being a total ass.

The befuddled (shocked and appalled?) couple in front of us was so contrite and so concerned that I just got more embarrassed and angrier.  She insisted that she go buy me another quesadilla.  I insisted "no"; but she insisted yes and was gone.  My friends and neighbors gave me a wide berth.

As I wrote earlier:  "I have a smart mouth and a sharp tongue that I use too much and sometimes inappropriately."  This was one of those times.  I dropped my head and shoulders in defeat, I had a physical reaction to my own behavior.  I was now that person we all hate:  that snob, that jerk, that little bitch.  That was me.

I squeezed past my friend and approached the two guys in my row with whom I lost the first quesadilla and I put my hand out, apologized, insisted that I over-reacted and thanked them for helping me.  I think they were surprised that a total jerk like me might actually apologize; but they were gracious and apologetic themselves and in moments we were pals again.

I then turned to the man in front of me and leaned forward.  He was a bit apprehensive, but I stuck out my hand, apologized, said I over-reacted, and thanked him for offering to get me more food.  He was a bit wide-eyed, possibly aghast, but he accepted my apology, insisting that he had no bad intentions.

I felt like a jerk, but that's how I should have felt.  This poor guy was still concerned that he had done something wrong.  He hadn't.  I had.

A moment later, while still apologizing to this guy, the woman (his wife?  girlfriend?  I don't know their relationship) returned with a quesadilla for me and handed it to me with a big smile, saying:  "I know what it's like to be hungry, have low-blood sugar, and get really irritated."

She was making it all right.  She was explaining that she, and by default the others, understood the situation and were just as concerned as I was angry.

I was humbled.

I apologized to her and said I over-reacted.  She would have no part of it, open her eyes wide, reached into her bag, handed me a bottle, and said: "I even stole the hot sauce, too"!

Everyone burst out laughing.  Everything was forgiven.  I shared my new quesadilla, and we all returned to watching the match, singing, chanting, jumping, and supporting our team.

These four supporters, these four people I didn't know, saw a fellow supporter in distress (for good reason or not), and they decided to help, to make it better.

I asked all their names at the time, but did not remember that night when I got home.  If you are reading this and you know who they are, please let me know and tell them I said thank you.

I love being a soccer fan in America.  I love the amazing community of soccer supporters that grows around every club.  The camaraderie, generosity, and good-will is amazing.

As I often say in my blog articles, I am a very lucky man whose life is made better by every person I encounter. That happened again in DC.  Now, it's New England for the conference final!

Come on you Red Bulls.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day and Veterans Day

by Dick Mac

Armistice Day commemorated the signing of the treaty at the end of World War I among the Allies and Germany. It took effect at "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." Today is Armistice Day.

War, in a historic perspective, is no easier to analyze than it is in the midst of the battles.

The two world wars of the Twentieth Century seemed like easy wars to justify and get behind. Those wars seem to have been about more than just control of natural resources; those wars seemed rooted in the human belief that there was a right way to live and that we would risk life and limb to ensure the rights of sovereign nations.

There have been a few other wars, or military actions, since then that have been efforts of human decency; I think of military conflicts in central Europe and Africa, undertaken to save ordinary citizens from genocide.

Today is Veterans Day, in the United States.

The American military has done some amazing things, and it is important to remember that there were times when men were sent to fight wars and they had no choice but to comply. Some of these men became heroes they never intended to be, some have been scarred for life. They deserve our thanks and respect.

We are creating new veterans today; men and women who have taken up arms at the behest of their nation, and no matter what you think of war or peace, today is the day to say thank-you to a veteran for risking everything.

Thank you!